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Good Things You’re Probably Not Hearing about (West) Michigan

December 31, 2009

And here’s another article that got knocked out of our Christmas letter . . . Justin and I wrote this one together and had a lot of fun doing it.

For the past two years, Michigan has taken a lot of bad rap. The former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, was charged with all sorts of things including perjury, misconduct, and obstruction of justice. The foreclosure rate here continues to be one of the highest in the nation.

And — no matter what the economic climate — we still get a heck of a lot of snow every winter. For two of the five years we’ve lived here, we’ve received almost record-breaking amounts.

However, it’s not so bad in West Michigan (besides the snow). The political and economic climate is so different on this side of the state, Justin has developed a new slogan urging western secession based on the traditional way Michiganders use their hand as a map. Except this western secession is called: “Split the Mitt.” Make a Spock-like hand sign and look at the top of your hand. This is our symbol. Why should we split the mitt? Let’s look at some of the five greatest things about West Michigan:

1.    ArtPrize
ArtPrize is an open art competition in Grand Rapids with the largest monetary prize in the world (for an art competition). This past fall was the inaugural ArtPrize event and it will be held again in 2010. It was so much fun to wander around downtown Grand Rapids and see beautiful, inspiring, odd, and just-plain-bad works of art. The best bit of personal trivia about ArtPrize? It is planned and run by the same people who also run an organization I used to work for in our early days here in Grand Rapids, Spout.

2.    A Smoking Ban — finally
Actually, this ban affects all of Michigan, so your lungs can be thankful in Detroit as well. Just last month the state legislature passed a workplace smoking ban. We’ve been waiting for this for five years. When we first moved to Michigan, someone asked, “What do you think of the state?” “Everyone smokes here and there are a lot of chicken bones on the sidewalk,” I said. This ban may help change things a bit in regards to the smoking, but probably won’t help with the chicken-bone thing. (It’s not that bad, actually, but I’d seen more than I was used to in Vancouver. In Vancouver there were never any chicken bones on the sidewalk.)

3.    Local Food Economy
We can get local — and usually organic — dairy, eggs, meat, honey, vegetables, and fruit almost all-year around. And it’s often cheaper than what we can purchase at the grocery store for the same quality. This is one of the best things about West Michigan and something I could go on and on and on about–as I do regularly in this blog.

4.    LEED Certified Buildings
The U.S. Green Building Council runs a program called “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED). Buildings that have a certain number of green initiatives— including roof gardens, high efficiency HVAC, rain gardens, locally made furniture, and a proximity to local transportation — can become LEED certified. And what does this have to do with Grand Rapids? Well, metro Grand Rapids has more LEED certified square footage per capita than any other city in the United States. This includes the art museum, Calvin’s nature center, a Hyatt, and one of our favorite restaurants, Marie Catrib’s.

5.    Home
Despite both of our vagrant days, West Michigan has become home. Even when we visit Joy’s parents in Northwest Indiana (a little over two hours away), we breathe a sign of relief when we pass the state line back into Pure Michigan. Sure, the roads are bumpier, but there are fewer billboards and it’s really, really pretty here, even with all the snow.

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